[Frontispiece: Jet brought the cane down on his head with full force.]
MESSENGER No. 48
Author of "Telegraph Tom's Venture," "Messenger No. 48", "Toby Tyler," "The Boy Captain," "Silent Peter," etc., etc.
THE SAALFIELD PUBLISHING COMPANY
NEW YORK —— AKRON, OHIO —— CHICAGO
The Saalfield Publishing Company
I Jet II Trouble III The Kidnappers IV An Engagement V Baffled VI The Battle VII A Bold Attempt VIII An Arrest IX The Detective X One Prisoner XI Close Quarters XII The Encounter XIII The Snare XIV A Capture XV Assistance XVI On the Trail XVII An Old Friend XVIII Jail Life XIX The Dinner XX A Recognition XXI The Adirondacks XXII The Small Guide XXIII The Visit XXIV A Stern Chase XXV Jim XXVI Success XXVII Reconnoitering XXVIII The Struggle XXIX Bob XXX A Failure XXXI An Attack XXXII Harvey & Co.
MESSENGER No. 48
"What's your name?"
"How old are you?"
"I don't know."
"Judging from the size I shouldn't say you were over ten."
"My size 's against me, that's a fact; but I can run a good deal faster than some fellers twice as big."
The manager of the District Messenger Station did not attempt to conceal a smile as the boy spoke thus earnestly, and continued the examination by asking:
"Where do you live?"
"Down on East Tenth Street."
"Mother and father alive?"
"Both dead. I'm boardin' with Mammy Showers."
"As a rule we do not employ boys who have no parents."
"Why not? Can't they shinney 'round, jest as well as other fellers?"
"There is no question about that, but we prefer to have some one to look out for them."
"So would I, but there's no use kickin' when a feller can't have all them luxuries," Jet said gravely. "It ain't so awful nice to hustle for yourself with a chance of bein' fired outer the house if the board ain't paid right up to the minute."
"How have you been earning a living?"
"Most any way that come handy. Sometimes I sell papers, an' then agin I black boots. I did think one spell of goin' into the theayter biz, but I couldn't git the right kind of a job. I can dance a good many of them perfessionals way out of sight, but the managers won't hire a performer what ain't got good clothes."
Jet spoke in a business-like tone which evidently pleased the manager, for the latter said, after a short pause:
"I will give you a trial, and——"
"You couldn't do better," Jet interrupted gravely, "for if I can't hump myself ahead of that fat chump over there I don't want a cent," and he pointed to a very fleshy boy who was half asleep on a bench which extended across the rear of the room.
"Here is a cap," the manager continued. "Your number is forty-eight. We'll find a coat which will answer until another is made, and you are to go to work at once. Can you read?"
"Then study this book of distances so you may know how much to charge for service, and set on that bench until it is your turn to go out."
Jet took the articles and was about to turn away from the desk when a very important question came into his mind.
"How much money are you goin' to give me a week?"
"Four dollars is the regular price for beginners; but there are good chances to advance if you attend to business."
This was evidently satisfactory to new number forty-eight, for he did as directed, and was soon busily engaged studying the tariff of prices, seated beside the fat boy who was now slumbering calmly.
For a short time Jet thought more about financial matters than of his lesson. Mammy Showers charged him a dollar and a half per week for a small room hardly larger than a cupboard, and two meals each day. He would now, providing he did not indulge in too many luxuries while traveling around the city, be able to save two dollars and a half every seven days, and it seemed very much as if he had fairly started on the highway to fortune.
"Well, if they call this work I'd like to have two or three jobs of the same kind." Jet said aloud when he was tired of studying the printed instructions. "I've been here a little more'n an hour, an' haven't been called off the bench once."
This remark appeared to arouse the fat boy to the consciousness of being alive, and on making great effort to sit upright, he noticed Jet for the first time.
"Hello! You're a new feller; I s'pose," he said with a yawn.
"Do you think I look very new?"
"You've jest com here to work, haven't you?"
"The way things look now I've come to set around an' keep the flies offer them young gents as has ter sleep forenoons."
"You'll be glad to do that same thing before you've worked here a week. It's dull now, but wait awhile, an' then see how the fellers have to hump themselves."
"Say, do you ever do very much?" Jet asked gravely.
"I was out on a job yesterday that I didn't get through with till past midnight."
"Do the fellers have to work so late as that?"
"Once in a while. You have to go where the customers send you, an' some of the jobs are funny ones."
"How far have you ever been on an errand?"
"Up to Albany to bring down a dog for a man what was goin' huntin'."
"Did you get him here?"
"Of course I did."
"It must have been mighty rough on the dog."
"'Caus he'd be away from home so long if he wasn't allowed to walk any faster than you can."
"Think you're funny, don't you?" and the fat boy made ready to resume his interrupted nap.
Before Jet could turn his attention to the tariff again the boy at the desk called loudly: "Number forty-eight!" and he went forward quickly, well pleased that something had occurred to break the monotony.
A summons had come from one of the hotels near by, and on answering it he found nothing of more importance than to carry a letter to a certain house in the immediate vicinity, but to Jet it was particularly agreeable work, since he was given ten cents more than the regular fee.
"If all the messages turn out like this one I shall have a mighty good thing of it," he said to himself, in a tone of satisfaction as he returned to the station.
Jet was called upon only twice more during this first day of his new work, and when he went home it was with the pleasing knowledge that he had received as presents fifteen cents.
On the following morning he was at his post so early that some of the "night boys" made sport of him for appearing at such an hour, predicting that in less than a week he would have "sense enough to stay at home till he was wanted."
He was not allowed to remain idle very long, however.
"Number forty-eight!" the man at the desk called sharply, and Jet leaped to his feet.
"Go to No. — East Fourteenth Street. Here is your slip."
Jet took the bit of paper and hurried away at full speed, to find that he had been sent to a bar-room which was by no means noted for bearing a good reputation so far as the honesty of its patrons was concerned.
Seated at one of the tables were two men. The elder, tall and slim, and the other of medium height, but rather fleshy.
"Come here!" the thin man called as the messenger entered, and Jet fancied that the fellow's full beard looked suspiciously heavy and black.
"I wouldn't like to bet that all that hair grew on his face," Jet said to himself, as he approached the table, but he gave the matter no further thought, for it was his business to obey orders, and not criticize his patrons.
"How long will it take you to go to the corner of Sixth Avenue and Fifteenth Street?"
"Not more than ten minutes."
"Take this satchel and give it to a party with red hair who is standing on the northwest corner."
"Suppose there should be more than one?" Jet asked as he took the traveling-bag which was remarkably light in weight although it was apparently stuffed full to bursting.
"The right man will ask your number, and you are to tell him it is one hundred and ten."
"But he can see by my cap that I'm forty-eight."
"Do as I tell you, and never mind about your cap, do you hear?"
"He will give you something to bring back, and you are not to stop on the way, no matter what happens."
"I'm not in the habit of loafing," Jet replied, just a trifle indignantly, and before he could say anything more the short man added impatiently:
"Then don't do it here. Get on about your business, for we want the answer in the ten minutes you promised."
Jet started at once, feeling decidedly hurt at the tone used by the men, and, walking as rapidly as the crowds on the sidewalk would permit, was soon at the appointed place.
A rough booking fellow with a shock of red hair which looked quite as false as the tall man's whiskers, was waiting for him.
"What is your number?" he asked nervously.
"I was told to say one hundred and ten, but that isn't right."
"Give me the bag, and take this back," the man said, as he literally tore Jet's burden from him, and thrust into the boy's hands a paper parcel so heavy that it required all his strength to hold it on one arm.
Jet was on the point of handing this odd acting fellow the slip of paper that it might be signed according to the rules of the office, but before he could so much as take it from his pocket the man had disappeared among the throng.
"I suppose it's all right," he said in a tone of perplexity, "but I wish people would let a fellow do as the boss insists upon."
There was no time for delay if he intended to return within the ten minutes as had been promised, and he hurried away, arriving at the saloon only to be told by the bartender that the gentlemen had left some time previous.
"What am I to do with this?" and Jet held up the paper parcel.
"They said you was to go to this number on the Bowery. I reckon it's one of them cheap lodging houses."
Jet took the card which was held toward him, and, stopping only long enough to read the written words and number, hurried off once more.
This last address was, as the barkeeper had suggested, a small hotel, and on ascending the stairs to the tiny apartment called by courtesy "the office," found the tall man awaiting his arrival.
"I thought you was a boy who didn't do any loafing," the gentleman said gruffly.
"I haven't stopped a minute."
"Who did you hang around chinning with?"
"Haven't you been talking to that other messenger?"
"The fellow you met."
"I haven't spoken to anybody except the red-haired man, and he didn't give me a chance to do much talking."
"What is your fee?"
"Here's half a dollar. If anybody asks where you have been say that it was to the Stock Exchange. I don't care to have a lot of people talking about my business, and a quarter should be enough to make you hold your tongue."
"Will you sign this slip, sir? the manager wants the distance and time on there."
"Do it yourself, and put it down as I tell you."
Jet obeyed, writing as the stranger dictated, and when he presented himself at the station once more the manager had no reason to believe he had been anywhere except to the Exchange.
Jet was not just certain, when he seated himself on the bench to wait for another summons, whether he had done right in obeying the tall man so implicitly, but yet he could not understand how it would make any difference to the manager, since he brought back the amount of money which was the lawful charge for such service.
"I'll ask one of the other fellows," he said to himself, and then the rush of business was so great that he almost forgot the incident of the morning.
Until two o'clock in the afternoon he was busily engaged, and at that hour returned after having been to the post-office to mail a large lot of circulars sent by a particularly testy and disagreeable old gentleman.
"You needn't sit down," the manager said sharply, as the boy laid the service slip on the desk. "Go with this man and see to it that you tell the whole truth."
Jet looked in surprise at a gentlemanly appearing person who was pointed out to him, standing near the door, and asked hesitatingly:
"What do you mean, sir?"
"Exactly what I said. Don't keep him waiting, and come back here at once if they let you go to-day."
This last remark was yet more mysterious than the first, but Jet did not have an opportunity to ask any more questions, for at this instant the stranger took him by the arm, saying as he did so:
"Now walk sharp. I've lost too much time already."
There was no other alternative but to obey, for the man literally dragged him through the crowds on the sidewalks, and continued on at a rapid pace until the two were at the entrance of Police Headquarters.
"What am I to go in there for?" Jet asked, as he tried to hold back.
"The inspector wants to see you," the man replied, and the boy ceased any show of resistance, for he began to realize that he was a prisoner, although on what charge he could not so much as guess.
Ten minutes later he was standing in front of the inspector, and that gentleman was gazing at him scrutinizingly.
"What is your name?" he asked abruptly, and when the answer had been given be continued by inquiring into all the particulars of his short life, until Jet cried in desperation:
"What do you think I have done, sir?"
"That remains to be seen," was the unsatisfactory reply, as, after writing down all the boy had said, the inspector summoned a man in the garb of an ordinary citizen, to whom he handed the paper as he said in a low tone: "Find out if this is correct, and come back at once."
Then turning to Jet:
"How long have you been a district messenger?"
"What time in the morning do you go on duty?"
"What was the first call you had to-day?"
"To No. — East Fourteenth Street."
"Tell me all that happened there, and remember If you try to lie I shall know it."
Jet, confused and bewildered by the strange position in which he found himself, did as he was bidden.
Just for an instant he believed it would be only just toward the man who had hired him, to repeat what he had been told to say, but then came the thought that he was virtually under arrest and the truth should be spoken at every hazard.
"Can you describe these men?" the inspector asked, when his short story was told.
Jet did his best, not omitting to say that the hair of one and the whiskers of another looked suspiciously false.
"Would you know them again?"
"I'm certain of it. The tall man I could spot even if the whiskers were taken off."
At this point the officer who had been sent to learn the truth of Jet's statement regarding himself, returned, nodded his head in a significant manner, and immediately disappeared through another doorway.
Over and over again did the inspector insist on Jet's telling the story of his morning's work, and when fully an hour had been spent in this manner he said decidedly more kindly than before:
"I believe you have spoken the truth, but you will be an important witness in a very serious case, and I suppose it is my duty to send you to the House of Detention."
"Does that mean I'm goin' to be locked up?" Jet asked in alarm.
"You will be deprived of your liberty, but it is very different from going to jail."
"Don't do that! Please don't do that! I've just got a job where I can earn a good deal of money, and it'll knock me out of it. Besides," Jet added as a lucky thought occurred to him, "if I keep on about my business I may see them fellers again."
"You advance a very good argument, and, in fact, I am depending on you to do that same thing, but how shall I know that you won't give us the slip?"
"I'll stay right at the office, except when I'm out with a message, an' come here every night if you say the word."
"Do you know of any one who would go bail for your appearance when wanted?"
"Mammy Showers would tell you that I'll act square up to what I say."
The inspector did not reply for several seconds, and then it was to say:
"I'll take your word for it, my boy. You are to report to me, or one of the officers here, every twenty-four hours, and, in the meanwhile, if you get a glimpse of either of those men, follow him until word can be sent to me; but do not speak of this matter to any one."
It was evident that this ended the interview, for the inspector rose to his feet, and Jet, overjoyed at the prospect of escaping imprisonment, hurried out of the gloomy-looking building.
On his return to the office the manager, who was particularly busy at that moment, motioned him to a seat on the messengers' bench, and the fat boy, unusually wide awake, asked in a blood-curdling whisper:
"Did you really have anything to do with that murder?"
"What do you mean?"
"There was a man killed an' robbed over on East Twentieth Street last night, and some of the fellers said you was down to headquarters tellin' the police all about it."
"And it was the murderers I saw this morning!" Jet repeated aloud, astounded by the knowledge that he had possibly assisted the guilty ones to hide the evidences of their crime.
"Then you was in it!" the fat boy exclaimed.
"Now don't be a fool! I carried a bag for some men this morning, but that's all I know about it. Who was the murdered man?"
"It's all in that paper Sankey left in his overcoat pocket. Get it an' you have the whole story. I wonder why they don't put you in jail?"
Before Jet could reply to this question he was ordered to the desk, and from there sent to answer a call from the Union Square Hotel.
Evidently it was not one of the regular patrons of the house who had summoned him.
He found a gentlemanly looking party standing just outside the clerk's desk, who appeared particularly pleased on observing the number on his cap.
"I want you to go with me to Yonkers, and bring back certain papers which must be delivered before six o'clock. Can you go so far?"
"I will run over to the office and find out. You see I haven't been on the force very long, and don't know exactly what to do when the work will keep me so long away."
"Very well, hurry as fast as possible, for I want to leave here by the next train."
Jet ran swiftly back, and in a very few moments returned with the information that he was at liberty to go wherever the gentleman desired, so long as the office received the regular price per hour for his services.
"There won't be any difficulty about that. You are to go to pier 466 North River, and wait there until I come. Don't stop on the way, for I shall probably ride down."
"I thought we were going on the cars."
"I changed my mind while you were away. We can get there just as quickly by boat. Hurry off, for I don't want to be kept waiting."
Jet left the hotel at once, wondering why the gentleman did not give him a car fare if the business demanded so much speed, and on his way to the pier he heard the news-boys crying the particulars of the "Terrible tragedy on East Twentieth Street."
"I'll see what the story is," Jet said to himself as he bought one of the papers, but he did not stop to read then lest he should arrive at the rendezvous too late.
The gentleman was waiting for him on his arrival, but did not express any anxiety to start for Yonkers immediately.
"You can go up to my room and help me stow away some baggage," he said, glancing around as if to make certain they were not observed.
"Ain't this the Albany boat?"
"Yes; but I reckon there's nothing to prevent our getting out at Yonkers."
"I didn't know she stopped there."
"You will probably have time to learn several things before you're many years older."
"But this steamer doesn't leave till night."
"I've made another change in my plans, and it doesn't concern you since a messenger's duty is to follow as long as he is paid for his services."
This was said in such an angry tone that Jet held his peace lest he should give further offense, but at the same time the whole affair was beginning, in his mind, to assume a very mysterious aspect.
The man motioned for him to walk by his side, and led the way through the main saloon to a state-room forward, where, through the half-opened door. Jet failed to see the baggage which had been spoken of as needing "stowing."
"Go in," the stranger said impatiently, pushing Jet into the apartment, and following him.
Then the door was locked, and the man carefully fastened both the shutter and window.
Now the messenger was alarmed, and turned toward the door with upraised fist as if to pound for assistance, when a hand was placed roughly over his mouth.
"Don't try any such game as that or there'll be trouble, you young cub," the man whispered, and almost before Jet knew what was being done a hard substance had been forced into his mouth and fastened there by a towel tied around his head.
That he was a victim of foul play the young messenger could have no doubt, and he struggled with all his strength to free himself, but in vain.
The stranger took from his pocket several lengths of stout rope, bound first Jet's hands and then his feet, after which he threw him roughly into one of the berths.
"I reckon you'll lay there without making very much fuss, till I get ready to let you go," he said, as he treated himself to a long draught from a black flask. "When we do land at Yonkers, you can go back to Police Headquarters once more."
The latter remark caused Jet to associate this adventure with the one he had had in the morning, and after looking intently at the stranger his suspicions became a certainty.
"This is the short fellow who got me to carry the valise!" he said to himself. "They know about my goin' to see the inspector, and are bound to get me out of the way."
The idea that his captor was a cold-blooded murderer, who probably would not hesitate to add another to his list of crimes, was far from reassuring, and the perspiration burst out on Jet's face as he thus persuaded himself he was in immediate danger of a violent death.
Jet's captor appeared to be perfectly contented after binding the boy, and assuring himself that it was impossible an alarm could be given.
He seated himself by the side of the berth, lighted a cigar, and began to read a newspaper, although the light in the room was far from good owing to the blinds being closed.
Jet was lying in such a manner that he could see the fellow's face plainly, and was now able to understand why he had not recognized him before.
At the saloon he had a heavy moustache and rather long hair. Now his face was smooth and his head closely shaven.
His face had then been so white as to be pallid, whereas it was now bronzed deeply. In addition the man's clothing was of the most fashionable make, while in the morning Jet had seen him clad in coarse, badly fitting garments.
"There's a big difference in his looks," Jet said to himself, "but yet I don't understand why I was such a fool as not to know him when he first spoke."
Messenger number forty-eight had ample time for reflection, for fully an hour passed without any change in the relative position of affairs, and then came a low, quick tap at the door.
When it was opened the tall man, now without a beard, and wearing a pair of green spectacles, came quickly into the room, locking the door carefully behind him.
"I see you've got the cub," he said, bending over Jet to make certain of his identity.
"Yes, had him here an hour."
"Have any trouble?"
"Not a particle. He was the first to answer my call, and I took that as a sign we should get away without leaving a trail."
"We can't lug him around the country with us."
"You're right but we can drop him after he's where it'll trouble him to get back."
"There's a safer way."
"I know what you mean, Joe, but I don't like to do any more of that business than's necessary. The last one couldn't have been avoided, but this can."
"It's a big risk to carry him up the river, and he'd better be dropped."
"We'll talk about that later. Have you heard anything new?"
"Not much. After this cub came from headquarters a detective was sent down to the Bowery, and by this time it is known pretty well what we looked like. The afternoon papers say the police are following a good clew, but you know what such talk means, Bob."
"Is the stuff salted away?"
"All except what we need for a couple of months. The boys can send us more if we conclude to leave the quiet little place we're bound for."
Then the two men had recourse to the flask, and after taking a hearty drink the one who had been called Bob proposed to go outside for a moment.
"You must be a fool to think of such a thing," Joe said angrily. "You are not done up so well but that some body would be able to recognize you. We are lucky in getting under cover without trouble, and here we stop till morning."
"It's going to be mighty dull work staying in this coop all that time."
"Not half so bad as a cell in the Tombs."
The two men relapsed into silence for a time and Jet lay watching them as he tried to devise some way out of a position which was fraught with danger. It seemed impossible that he could aid himself, bound as he was, and exceedingly improbable any one would come to his assistance.
Study as he might Jet could think of no way to extricate himself and he said mentally after racking his brain in vain:
"I don't see any way out, but there's no use in giving up hope till a fellow is obliged to."
The men alternately drank and smoked during the remainder of the afternoon, but said very little more regarding their flight.
When the steamer started Jet expected to hear them decide what was to be done with him, but in this he was mistaken.
As the hours wore on he fell into an uneasy slumber, despite the painfulness of his position, and during this time of unconsciousness the matter must have been settled.
It was yet dark when the steamer arrived at Albany, and, very much to the prisoner's surprise, the two men left the room, fastening the door behind them. Then Jet heard a noise as if something was being done to the lock, after which a deep silence reigned.
"They're going to leave me here, and have put something into the lock so the door can't be opened in a hurry," he said to himself, and during the next ten minutes he struggled desperately to free himself.
The bonds had been adjusted by an expert, and he might as well have tried to fly as to hope to remove them unaided.
He was both thirsty and hungry, and every limb ached from being so long in one position.
It seemed an almost endless time before the sounds of people moving proclaimed that the passengers were leaving the steamer.
Then another long interval, during which he could hear the noises of the city, and finally some one knocked on the door of the room.
If he could have cried out then his term of imprisonment would have been speedily ended.
"Some fool has broken the key in the lock," he heard one of the servants say after trying several times to open the door. "We may as well wait till the engineer can come up."
Jet was rapidly losing heart. He counted the minutes, as if such a course would make the time pass more rapidly, and was so thoroughly exhausted when, at nearly three o'clock in the afternoon, the work of picking the lock was begun, that he could not have made himself heard even had the gag been removed.
The engineer was not a skillful locksmith, and half an hour elapsed before the door was opened.
Even then it was several moments before the bedroom stewards perceived the prisoner, and instead of unbinding him at once they ran in search of the purser. When that officer arrived Jet was released from his uncomfortable position, but his mouth was so dry and parched that he could not speak.
The boy realized that he would be questioned closely, and remembering the inspector's caution, he resolved to tell no more than was absolutely necessary. Therefore when the officers of the steamer insisted on being told how he chanced to be a prisoner, he simply related the story of the capture, without entering into particulars as to why the men should do such a thing. His account was looked upon with suspicion, and after questioning him yet more closely the purser said:
"The boy is lying for some purpose, probably to get a free passage. Why would two men want to steal a fellow like him?"
"I've told the truth," Jet replied earnestly. "Don't you suppose I could have stowed away easier than by being tied up till I couldn't wink, an' waiting for you to come an' find me?"
"That sounds reasonable enough, but at the same time I don't believe the story," the purser said severely. "Get ashore now, and if I catch you on this boat again you'll have considerable trouble."
It was with difficulty Jet could walk, owing to the cramps in his limbs, but he hobbled ashore at once, thinking that for a boy who had simply tried to do his duty he had been badly used.
It was necessary he should return home at once, but he had no money.
He was hungry, and yet had nothing with which to purchase a meal.
His entire hoardings were in a box at Mammy Showers' house, and he did not have the value of a penny about him.
"It's a mighty tight fix," he said reflectively, as he walked up from the river front, "and what makes it worse is that the inspector will be certain I've run away because I had something to do with the murder."
There could be no question but that he was in a bad scrape, and the more he thought of it the more serious did the whole affair appear.
"Hello, Johnny! Whater you doin' up here?"
Without really thinking he was the one addressed, Jet looked around, and saw a small boy in district messenger's uniform beckoning vigorously to him.
"Was you calling me?" he asked, as he crossed the street.
"Sure. Ain't that a New York cap?"
"Whater you doin' here?"
"That's what I'd like to know," Jet replied ruefully.
"Well say, what's crawlin' on you? Run away, eh?"
Jet was in that frame of mind when to confide in some one is a relief, and he told him the same story the purser of the steamer refused to believe.
His new acquaintance listened attentively, and when Jet had concluded, asked:
"What do you s'pose they wanted with a feller like you?"
"I don't know."
"Hadn't anybody's else money, eh?"
"Not a cent, an' I'm no richer now."
"What kind of lookin' duffers was they?"
"Dressed pretty well, the short one was."
"Did the other one wear green spectacles, an' was he tall?"
"Yes, have you seen 'em?"
"There was a couple of duffers hangin' round the other depot waitin' for the train, an' I wouldn't wonder if they was the ones. The short feller bought two tickets for Cooperstown Junction."
"How did you happen to hear all that?"
"I went after some parlor car tickets for our boss."
"Has the train gone yet?"
"It oughter left at seven this mornin'."
"An' it's most night now, so they've got off."
"Was they runnin' away from somebody?"
Just for an instant Jet was on the point of telling this brother messenger the whole story, but he checked himself in time and replied:
"I should think they'd want to after playin' such a trick on me. Say, how am I goin' back to New York?"
"I dunno 'less you walk; I don't reckon you wanter stow away on the boat?"
"You bet I don't."
At this moment the Albany messenger remembered that he had been sent on an important errand, and said as he turned to go:
"I'll be through work at six o'clock. Come around by the office an' we'll have another talk."
Food, not conversation, was what Jet most wanted just then, and as his new acquaintance departed in great haste he walked aimlessly along the streets wondering what could be done.
"The inspector thinks by this time that I lied to him, and—— By gracious, why can't I follow those fellows? That's jest what he told me to do!"
This seemed like a lucky thought, and without realizing that he had no means to prosecute even the shortest search, Jet went rapidly toward the depot.
It was necessary for Jet to inquire the way to the depot spoken of by his new acquaintance, and after arriving there his helplessness seemed more apparent than before.
Passengers coming and going paid no attention to the boy, save to push him out of their road, and he was even more alone in the hurrying throng than he had been on the street.
After wandering to and fro, trying to screw up courage enough to ask the conductor for a free ride, and failing in the effort because none of the train hands would give him an opportunity to speak with them, he sat down on a truck and mechanically plunged his hands in his pockets.
The paper purchased on the evening previous was the only thing which met his touch.
"I might as well find out about this murder," he said to himself, as he unfolded the printed sheet. "When a feller is readin' he kinder forgets how hungry he is, I reckon."
To give the printed account in all its details would require too much space, since there were no less than five columns in Jet's paper.
The substance was to the effect that a well-known merchant, residing on East Twentieth Street, had been found on the floor of his library the previous morning, his skull crushed in as if with some heavy instrument like a crow-bar, or a burglar's jimmy, and the safe, which was known to have contained money and bonds to the amount of forty-six thousand dollars, was broken open and empty.
The theory of the detectives was that thieves had entered the dwelling for the purpose of robbery; but having been surprised by the owner, killed him in order to make good their escape.
A large tuft of hair in the dead man's hand told that he had grappled with his murderers, and the overturned furniture spoke of a long and desperate struggle.
Singular as it may seem none of the other occupants of the house had heard any unusual noise, although the uproar must have been great for some moments, nor was any shock perceived when the safe door had been blown off.
It was as the paper stated, the most mysterious of the many detective-baffling crimes which had been committed in New York city, because of the fact that such a deed could have been done without alarming any one in the vicinity.
Nothing was said regarding the men for whom Jet had carried the satchel, because at the time the article had been written the police were not in possession of this very valuable clew.
Jet had finished reading the article, and was studying the matter in his mind without being able to arrive at any definite conclusion regarding the course he should pursue, except that he was eager to follow the men who had treated him so roughly, when a stranger halted directly in front of him.
"You don't seem to be very busy."
"It kinder looks that way for a fact."
"Taking a vacation?"
"A good deal more of a one than I want. I'd like to pick up some kind of a job that would pay a little money between now an' bedtime."
"In New York. A couple of duffers hired me to come here, an' then skipped without payin'."
"So you're stranded?"
"You'd think so if you didn't have a blessed cent, an' was hungry enough to eat up the whole town."
"Do you want to earn money to take you back to the city?"
"I'd rather go to Cooperstown Junction."
"Then you'd be worse off than you are here, for it isn't any town."
"That's where I want to go all the same."
"I can give you a chance if you'll work your way."
"What do you want me to do?"
"I've got a minstrel company on the road, and wouldn't mind paying the traveling expenses of a smart boy who will distribute programmes and make himself generally useful."
"A show! Say, I can do a mighty good turn at dancin', and give some of these fellers what think they know it all, a few points."
"Step out and let me see what you can do."
Jet was by no means bashful; in a few seconds he was dancing as spiritedly as if such discomforts as hunger and fatigue were unknown.
"You'll do," the stranger said, approvingly, when the boy ceased his efforts. "I'll take you along, and pay a little something if you'll do a turn."
"You can bet your life I will, but I don't want to go any farther than Cooperstown Junction."
"Very well, there'll be plenty of time to talk about that part of the business, for we shall make three stands between here and there. Take this money to buy something in the way of a lunch, and in twenty minutes we'll start."
Jet was overjoyed.
By this arrangement he saw an opportunity to follow the alleged murderers, and at the same time earn money to return to New York if necessary.
Probably if he had told his new employer the whole story that gentleman would have advised him to call upon the inspector without delay, rather than try to run the criminals down himself.
As it was, however, he believed he knew exactly what course to pursue, and had little doubt as to succeeding.
Two sandwiches and three boiled eggs were the provisions he purchased to break his long fast, and when the train drew out of the depot the amateur dancer, seated by the side of his employer, thought he was very fortunate.
Cobleskill was the town where Jet was to make his first bow before the public, and with a costume which was rather "off color" because of having been contributed in fragments by the different members of the company, he stepped on the stage feeling just a trifle nervous.
To the surprise of his professional companions Jet gave a really presentable performance.
It is true some of his steps were not exactly artistic, but he made up in quantity what might have been lacking in quality, and the applause received was enough to make him proud.
"Say, my boy, you'll make a success of this thing if you do a little studying," the manager exclaimed when Jet finished his turn. "I'll give you ten dollars a week and pay all your expenses if you want to keep on the road with us."
"I don't reckon I'll stay more than the three nights we talked about, 'cause you see I've got some work to do when we strike Cooperstown Junction."
"You'll be glad enough to drop it when you see what kind of a place it is."
During the remainder of the evening Jet had nothing to do save watch the other performers from the wings, and but for the fear that the inspector might send an officer to arrest him, he would have enjoyed himself hugely.
On the following day he took part in the street parade at the next stopping place, and during the afternoon read everything concerning the tragedy he could find in the hotel reading-room papers.
He did not gain any great amount of information, however.
The particulars of the murder were related at greater length, and it was said that several promising clews were being followed, but no details were given concerning the work of the detectives.
"Jest as likely as not I'll surprise people before this thing is over. If I can get on the track of them men Something is goin' to happen for a fact."
He had already begun to speculate on the anticipated triumph when he should, unaided, bring the guilty men to justice, as his gaze fell on an advertisement displayed in large type:
A suitable reward will be paid for information as to the whereabouts of Jethro Lewis. The said boy is fourteen years of age, medium size, curly hair, and when last seen wore a suit of grey clothes with a district messenger's cap, on which were the figures 48.
Address X. Y. Z., Herald office.
"The inspector is after me," Jet whispered as the paper fell from his grasp. "Now my jig is up, an' I reckon there's no chance but that I'll have to go to jail."
Jet tore the advertisement from the sheet lest it should be seen by some member of the company, and then went at once to the theater, where he could remain screened from view of the townspeople.
The one thought in his mind was that all would be well if he could get on the track of those who had kidnapped him, and he blamed himself severely for not having gone straight on to Cooperstown Junction, instead of remaining with the company, but how that might have been done while he was penniless was something he did not attempt to solve.
"I won't stay any longer than to-night," he said to himself as the curtain was raised for the evening's performance, and the stage manager warned him to be ready for his cue. "There must be some way of getting over to that place without waiting for the company."
On this night he felt more confidence in himself, having had two rehearsals with the leader of the orchestra, and at the signal went before the audience confidently.
On the previous performance he had not dared to look at the people, but kept his eyes on the stage. Now, however, he glanced around, and the dance was hardly begun before he brought it to a close, the musicians gazing at him in surprise.
The cause of his sudden stopping was startling enough to have disconcerted a much older performer.
Facing him, and not more than two rows of seats from the stage, sat the two men he was so anxious to meet.
"Go on!" the leader of the orchestra whispered hoarsely, and from the wings he heard the angry command of the stage manager:
"Get to work, boy! Do you want to queer the whole show?"
Jet nerved himself to begin the dance, but he was so exceedingly awkward that several of the audience guyed him, a fact which deprived him of the small remnant of self-possession remaining.
Without stopping to consider what the result might be, he ran at full speed from the stage, and the spectators hooted and yelled derisively.
"What is the matter with you?" the manager asked fiercely, as he shook Jet until his teeth chattered.
"Them men are there!" the boy cried brokenly. "I must go right out an' get hold of them."
"You'll go and stay, you little villain! If you couldn't dance I wouldn't say a word, but I know what you are able to do. Where are you off to now?"
"I want to change these clothes so's I can go around to the front of the house."
"Them men are there, an' I've got to find out where they're stopping."
"What are they to you?
"Don't stop to ask questions now, but let me go!" Jet cried, impatiently, as he tore himself from the angry man's grasp, threw off the stage costume and ran from the building.
With no idea his enemies had recognized him, he continued on without fear until reaching the corner of the building, where one of the men was standing half hidden by the shadow.
The fellow's hand was raised, and as Jet came up he struck the boy a crashing blow on the head with a stout stick, felling him to the ground like one suddenly deprived of life.
When Jet regained consciousness he was lying on the ground alone, feeling dizzy and suffering from a most severe pain in his head.
He raised his hand as if to relieve the anguish, and found that his hair was matted together with a certain sticky substance, which, by aid of a light from a near-by lamp, he discovered to be blood.
From the theater music could be heard, thus telling that the performance had not yet been brought to a close.
It was only after the greatest difficulty that Jet rose to his feet, looked around for an instant as if expecting another attack, and then staggered toward the stage entrance.
He spent ten minutes covering a distance of twenty yards, and, on opening the door, was greeted by one of the company, who had evidently come out for a breath of fresh air.
"You had better not let the manager see you until after he cools off a little more, for—— What is the matter, lad?"
This last question after the boy's pale and blood-stained face could be seen.
"Somebody struck me."
"Struck you? It looks more as if they had been trying to kill you."
"Perhaps that was what they did want to do," and Jet half-seated himself, half-fell on a trunk.
However aggrieved the members of the company may have felt because of Jet's failure, none of them were so hard-hearted as to ignore the fact of his suffering. Those not on the stage were immediately summoned by the boy's questioner, and in a very few seconds a messenger had been sent in search of a surgeon.
"Don't bother about me; I'll be all right in a little while," Jet managed to say, and then he fainted.
It was soon found that the boy's injuries, while severe, were not dangerous.
The scalp had been laid open to such an extent that half a dozen stitches were necessary to close the wound, and the surgeon said, reassuringly, as he bandaged the cut:
"He has lost considerable blood, which accounts for his weak condition. It will be some time before he feels all right again; but he'll come around in good shape."
"Will it do him any harm to keep on traveling with us?" the manager asked.
"Let him be quiet, and I don't anticipate any evil results. Do you know how it happened?"
"No. He was very anxious to see some one in the audience, and I fancy he went out immediately after breaking down in his act."
"Then send around at once and learn if anybody left the hall just before the assault."
This suggestion was acted upon immediately, and the doorkeeper stated that two men, one tall and the other of medium height, went out very soon after Jet ran off the stage.
"It must have been some fellow who had a grudge against him, and he broke down from fright at seeing the man; but I don't fancy it will do much good to attempt to trace the matter. Show people can't afford to fool around a town waiting for the delays of the law when they are billed to play in other places, therefore the whole thing had better be dropped."
The surgeon received his fee and left the invalid after advising that he be kept perfectly quiet.
The performers continued their efforts to amuse, and Jet, lying on a pile of wardrobe stuff, with the music of the orchestra and the applause of the audience ringing in his ears, tried to decide upon his course of action.
"I'll have to leave the show here an' find them fellers," he thought to himself, and then the pain of his wound prevented any further study of the detective work he hoped to perform.
It so chanced, however, that he did not carry out this resolution.
When morning came he was too sick to have much choice in the matter, and the kind-hearted manager said as he wrapped the boy in an old overcoat:
"We'll take him along in the hope of his getting better. If he don't improve in a day or two he can be left in some other town, for it's certain his life isn't safe in this place. Those fellows hit to kill last night, and on a second attempt might be more successful."
It was forty-eight hours before Jet fully realized the condition of affairs, and then the show was nearly a hundred miles from the scene of the attack.
"Have we passed Cooperstown Junction?" he asked of the manager as the performers boarded a train.
"Bless your heart, lad, we left that desolate place behind us the morning after you were hurt."
"How can I get back there?"
"I shan't allow you to try it yet awhile. In your present condition it would be as much as your life is worth to make the attempt."
"But I must go."
"See here, Jet, why not tell me what is on your mind? I might be able to help you."
"Some time you shall know all about it; but not now."
"Just as you please," was the impatient reply. "Will you be able to do a turn to-night?"
"I must get off the train at the next station."
"That's what I've got to do. You've been mighty good to me, but I can't go any farther from New York."
"How will you get back without money?"
"Walk, if there isn't any other way."
It was useless for the manager to make any protest. He was eager to keep Jet with the company, for he had seen that he could please the public; but after quite a lengthy conversation the boy's determination was so strong that it would have been useless to oppose him further.
"Well, if I can't help myself, I suppose you must go. Here are a couple of dollars to help out on the trip, and I hope you'll win, whatever's in the wind."
"When does the train stop?"
"In less than ten minutes."
Jet made his preparations for leaving by removing the coat which one of the company had contributed for his comfort, but the manager insisted that he keep it, and when he stepped upon the platform of a small station while the train continued on, it was with a very decided sense of loneliness.
His first care was to buy a new hat.
His messenger's cap was too conspicuous, and afforded positive means of identification in case he met with any one who had read the advertisement.
Then came the question as to whether he should return by the train at the expense of his small capital, or walk at the expense of time.
"It ain't certain they stayed in that town after knockin' me down, an' I stand as good a chance of meetin' 'em on the road as anywhere else, so I'll tramp it."
After investing twenty cents in crackers and cheese, and consulting with the station master as to whether it would be advisable for him to follow the track or the carriage road, Jet set out on his journey.
"Counting ties" was not as easy a job as he had fancied, and after an hour's steady walking he sat down to rest a short distance from the road, in the shelter of a shanty which looked as if it might originally have been intended for a tool-house when that portion of the road was being built.
He had not yet fully recovered from the effects of the murderous blow, and the steady traveling tired him to such an extent that it became necessary to lie down.
The natural result of this indulgence was that he soon fell asleep, and even the rumbling of the trains as they passed failed to awaken him, until after some time, when he became aware of a tugging and pulling at his coat.
Opening his eyes, he saw crouching by his side about as villainous a looking tramp as one would care to meet.
"What are you up to?" Jet cried angrily, as he attempted to rise to his feet, but was prevented by the man, who threw one arm around the boy's body.
"Lay still, sonny, an' nobody shan't hurt you."
"Take your hand out of my pocket!" and Jet cautiously drew up his legs ready for a sudden dash.
"Now don't get into a fidget; I'm only tryin' to find out if you've got a license to travel over this 'ere road."
The fellow was now doing his utmost to get at the contents of his prisoner's pockets, and although the special one on which he was working contained nothing of value, Jet did not intend to submit to the indignity.
He had drawn his feet up as far as possible, and was ready for the struggle.
Striking the man a blow in the eye with his disengaged hand, he kicked upward an instant later, hitting the tramp fairly on the back of the head as he involuntarily sprang backwards from the effects of the pain.
This vigorous treatment sufficed to break the hold, and Jet sprang to his feet just in time to avoid a vicious blow.
"Try to get the best of me will you?" the man cried, savagely, as he picked up a heavy cane which lay near by, keeping his eye meanwhile on the boy.
Jet knew he must do his best, or suffer for what had been done.
He could see nothing which would serve as a weapon, and was thinking it might be best to make a break for freedom, when the man sprang upon him.
Luckily he succeeded in avoiding a blow from the cane, by seizing with both hands the tramp's right arm, and then came a desperate struggle.
Not for a moment did he dare to release his hold lest the fellow should be able to use his weapon, and in the meanwhile he was pummeled soundly.
The man's left hand was at liberty, and with it he showered blow after blow on the boy's body.
Jet managed to screen his face by using the tramp's arm as a shield, and, finding that he was getting the worst of it darted forward at the same time he kicked with all his strength.
This sudden attack sent the man to the ground, and as he fell Jet wrested the cane from his grasp.
"It's my turn now!" he cried, as the fellow scrambled to his feet in a rage. "Make tracks out of this mighty fast or I'll break every bone in your body!"
The man glared at him fiercely for an instant, and then, stepping back a few paces, shouted loudly in a peculiar tone.
"Stop that!" and Jet ran forward with the stick uplifted. "Don't you dare to bring your friends here."
"You spoke a leetle too late, sonny, for they're coming."
Jet glanced quickly down the track, where could be seen two others of the same sort as his adversary, running at full speed.
"I reckon we won't have any trouble about huntin' for your license now," the fellow said with a grin as he retreated to a safe distance.
Jet hesitated an instant.
He knew that it would be useless to make a stand-up fight against all three, but yet at the same time flight was impossible, because of his exhaustion, caused by the struggle with the tramp.
Looking quickly around, he observed that the door of the shanty was open, hanging by one hinge.
The hut might serve as a place of refuge until some of the section hands should come that way and he leaped into the building.
Wrenching the door from its fastening, he pulled it inside, and set it up lengthwise as a sort of a barrier.
"They'll have to come within reach of this cane before getting at me, an' it'll be hard luck if I don't give a good account of myself for a little while," he said, as with compressed lips, he waited for the battle which he knew must soon begin.
The two tramps who were coming down the track halted on reaching the one who had attacked Jet, and all had a brief conversation, which evidently concerned the occupant of the shanty.
Jet watched every movement, but while they were talking he had an opportunity to gaze around the hut in the hope of seeing other means of defense.
It was empty, with the exception of a pile of straw in one corner, which most likely had served as a bed for these or other tramps.
"There's nothing for it but to stand up here as long as possible, and perhaps somebody will come along before they can get the best of me," he said grimly. "If things are going on at this rate, it would have been better for me if I'd stayed with the show, for this isn't doin' very much toward findin' the murderers."
The men had finished their conversation, and were now approaching the shanty.
Jet raised the heavy cane, and stood ready for the battle.
It was not to begin as quickly as he thought, for the three men halted a few yards away, and one of them said, in a wheedling tone, as he stepped several paces nearer:
"See here, sonny, we're poor, hard-workin' carpenters out of a job. There's no need of havin' trouble with you; but we're that hungry as to make a fight seem pleasant alongside of suckin' our thumbs an' eatin' wind-puddin' all the time."
"What do you mean by all that?"
"Nothin' more'n to let you know how we're fixed."
"It doesn't concern me."
"There's where you're makin' a big mistake, sonny. You've got money an' we're broke, so it's nothin' more'n fair you should whack up."
"I'm no better off than you are, or I wouldn't be walking instead of riding on the cars."
"Then come out like a man an' show us what you have got."
"I'd be a fool to do that, for it's none of your business."
"Now you're makin' another mistake. We've been put here to find out sich things."
"There's no use of all this chinning, for I'm not a fool," Jet cried, angrily. "I shan't come out, nor will you have a chance to rob me."
"I'm sorry you won't listen to reason, for we may have to treat you mighty rough before this job is finished."
"Do the best you know how, but remember that I'm going to have something to say first," and Jet swung the cane threateningly.
"Better take him right out; we'll have visitors before long, an' it won't do to have sich a cub around," the leader of the party said, as he advanced, after having armed himself with several huge rocks.
Now the battle began in downright earnest.
Almost before Jet understood that the men were ready to make the attack a shower of stones were hurled against the shanty, and two came unpleasantly near his head as they were flung through the door.
"If one of them hits me the jig is up," Jet muttered, dodging his head barely in time to escape a huge fragment which would have crushed his skull like an eggshell.
"We'll give you one more chance to come out peaceable like," the leader cried, as he motioned for his companions to cease firing.
If it had not been for the ignominy of backing down from the bold stand he had taken, Jet would have accepted the invitation.
The small amount of money in his possession did not warrant a risk of life, and then again he was but delaying the real purpose of his life by remaining.
His pride prevented him from surrendering, and he made no reply.
Again the men advanced with a shower of stones, and now they were so near that Jet could only find shelter by hugging the side of the hut nearest the door.
"Can't some of you hit him?" the leader asked, angrily. "We mustn't keep the fun up very long, for the boss is bound to come mighty soon, an' there'll be a row that amounts to something if he finds us foolin' like this."
These words caused the men to renew their efforts, and twice did Jet receive a severe blow on the body before he found an opportunity to return the compliment.
Then one of the fellows, leaning over the barricade in order to take better aim, presented a fair target.
Jet brought the cane down on his head with full force, and the fellow fell to the ground like one dead.
A roar of rage went up from the others, but they prudently fell back a short distance, dragging their companion with them.
"You see it isn't going to be so one-sided as you fancied," Jet cried. "Now haul off an' I'll leave without saying another word."
"You won't have much more chance to talk," the leader cried, savagely, as he gathered another armful of rocks; but before he could renew the attack a shout from the distance caused him to drop his weapons very suddenly.
"The boss has come, an' now we shall get a tongue-lashing!" one of the fellows said, as if in alarm.
"I reckon that won't hurt us very much," the leader replied, but at the same time he dropped the rocks, and stood ready to receive the new-comer.
Jet could not see the track from where he was standing, but he heard what sounded like a familiar voice ask, sharply:
"Now what kind of deviltry are you fellers into?"
"Trying to drive out a rat we've got cornered in here."
"Same old tricks, eh? Well, some of these days you'll bite off more than can be chewed easily, an' then the jig will be up for all hands. Can't you act decent one day in a month?"
"That depends. When we're left alone three or four weeks on mighty short allowance, it stands us in hand to look out for ourselves," the leader of the party replied, insolently.
"Take care of your tongue, my friend, or there'll be something else needin' care precious soon. Let me see your game."
Jet heard the sound of rapid footsteps, and an instant later the tall man whom he had such good cause to remember was standing at a safe distance trying to peer into the shanty.
"Hello!" he cried, in surprise, as he recognized the boy. "It seems that you've been doin' a lucky stroke of business without knowing it. Don't let him give you the slip, an' bring him over to the house as soon as possible."
"Somebody you know?" one of the fellows asked.
"Yes, a boy who has found out too much for his own good, and he must be kept mighty close."
"It wouldn't take long to fix that for you," was the significant reply.
"We may have to do it; but Bob is agin that kind of business, an' to humor him we must keep the cub awhile."
"Has Bob come back?"
"He must be at the house by this time."
"Have you brought grub?"
"Of course not. Do you think we travel around the country loaded down like pack horses?"
"Better do that than go hungry."
"Is everything used up?"
"Yes, or we shouldn't be down here."
"I'll see to layin' in a stock, an' there shall be plenty to drink. When you can get hold of the boy, come along; I'll start now."
The man disappeared from view, and the sound of his footsteps told that he was walking rapidly away in the direction from which he had approached.
"What a fool I was to stay here fightin' for less than two dollars, when by giving it up I might have been half a mile from here before that villain came!" Jet said, bitterly, as he nerved himself for what he knew must be the final struggle.
He had good cause for fear.
After the instructions which had been given there was little chance the men would let him slip through their fingers, and, with such an incentive on their part, there was no hope the struggle could be prolonged.
The man whom he had stricken down was now on his feet, vowing vengeance, and ready to continue the fight.
"Close right in on him," the leader said as he seized a stout rail from a near-by fence. "He can only hit one blow, and the job is ended."
"I'll give them a chance to remember me," Jet said, as he stood ready for the attack, and the words had hardly come into his mind before the men were in front of him.
Striking out with all his strength, his cane came in contact with the leader's weapon, shattering the former, and the fight was over.
Two of the men seized him by the arms, and the third amused himself by slapping the helpless boy in the face until tired of the sport.
"Tie his hands, an' we'll mosey along. Joe is after something to drink, an' we must be there in time to get our share."
One of the party had rope enough in his pocket to obey the order, and in a twinkling Jet's arms were bound so tightly to his sides as to cause great pain.
During all this time he had not spoken a word, but he did a "power of thinking."
In the first place he scrutinized his captors carefully, in order to be able to give a perfect description of them in case he succeeded in making his escape, and then took a good survey of the surrounding country, that he might find his way back again.
"Now get along, an' walk sharp, or what I have given you will seem no more than a flea-bite alongside of the whalin' you'll get," the leader said as one of the party started off, and he pushed Jet behind him.
The prisoner could do no less than obey, and despite the disadvantage of walking with his hands tied, he managed to keep pace with the others. During nearly half an hour the party continued on at a rapid pace, turning out of the railroad track about a quarter of a mile from the shanty, and striking directly through the woods.
At the end of this time they had arrived at what appeared to be little more than a clearing in the woods, where was situated a rude log house of two stories, around which was piled a complete circle of cordwood not less than six feet high.
It may have been cut for fuel, but it would serve admirably as breast-works if the place was attacked by officers.
A small outbuilding, which was evidently used as a stable, stood fifteen or twenty feet in the rear of the main building, inside the circle of wood, and near the door were tied two savage looking dogs, who tugged and pulled at their chains, while they barked loudly as the party approached.
"If we had left them loose, I don't reckon either the boss or Bob would have cared to come very near while we were away," the leader of the party said grimly, as he went toward the stable, leaving the others in charge of the prisoner.
"There ain't much chance I'll ever be able to tell the inspector what I've been doing," Jet thought as he entered the enclosure formed by the fuel, and was led toward the single door of which the house boasted. "Those dogs would be worse than a hundred men if a fellow was trying to sneak off."
He had no further opportunity for speculation just then, for the men pushed him roughly into the house, and he stood in front of the short man who had so successfully acted the part of a gentleman at the Union Square Hotel.
A BOLD ATTEMPT
"It seems to be pretty hard to get rid of you," the man said, with a grin as Jet stood in front of him.
"I can't say it's my fault."
"Perhaps not, and it shan't be ours in the future. Where have you been?"
"Trying to earn money enough to pay my way back home."
"We'll provide you a job here. If you behave yourself things won't go so very bad; but there'll be the very devil to pay if we find you trying to give us the slip."
"I shan't stay any longer'n I can help," Jet replied, stoutly.
"We'll take good care that you can't help it for some time. Sam, take him up stairs where the small press was; I reckon he'll be safe enough there; and when Joe comes back turn the dogs loose."
"Then you an' he'll have to be mighty careful about goin' into the yard, for they'll tackle either of you as quick as they would this boy."
"So much the better. We'll look out for ourselves. There must be work done to-night, so get ready for it while you are up stairs."
The fellow waited an instant as if to learn whether there were any more directions to be given, and then dragged Jet out through a door which led to the apartments above.
There were no stairs connecting the first with the second story. A stout ladder afforded the only means of ascent, and since Jet could not make his way up this while his hands were tied, his jailor was forced to remove the rope.
"Now get along; but look out how you try to play any tricks, for this is a mighty unhealthy place for anything of the kind."
Jet had no idea of attempting to escape while the odds were so decidedly against him, and he obeyed meekly.
The man conducted him to a small room at the rear of the building, which looked as if it had lately been used as a workshop, and there left him, after locking and barring the door from the outside.
The prisoner gazed around him curiously.
The apartment did not contain a single article of furniture. One small window admitted the light, and this was so heavily barred with wooden uprights that even with a sharp saw considerable time would have been required for the prisoner to cut through.
In one corner was a heap of dirt and fragments of paper; the floor was stained as if with ink, as were the walls of hewn boards.
From the window the stable was all with the exception of trees, to be seen. A more desolate spot could not well be imagined, and to add to its loneliness was the fact that it must be many miles from the nearest habitation.
Jet had no time to speculate upon his own condition; the only thought in his mind just then was why these men chose to live in such a forsaken place.
In an adjoining room he could hear some person walking around briskly, evidently moving heavy articles from one spot to another, and from below came the hum of conversation.
Having nothing better to do, and still intent on trying to learn the purpose for which this house was intended, Jet began kicking away the pile of dirt.
A bit of bright green attracted his attention.
Picking it up he found to his great surprise and delight that it was a new ten dollar bill. The fact, that it was unsigned escaped his notice.
"Well, this isn't so bad," he said, in a tone of satisfaction. "If I ever do get away from this place I'll have money enough to pay my fare to New York. I s'pose it belongs to them fellers; but I'm going to keep it, all the same, to even up for what they've done."
Now the dirt pile had great attractions.
He examined it closely, and had the satisfaction of finding a second bill exactly like the first.
"These people must have plenty of money if they can afford to leave it around loose like this," he said, as he placed the newly found wealth in his stocking directly beneath his foot.
Quite a large quantity of plain paper in small strips was all that rewarded his further search among the dirt; but he did not think there was any cause for complaint on his part.
"Twenty dollars will come pretty nigh settlin' for all them fellers have done to me. Now let's try to study up a plan for gettin' out of this place. There must be some way."
A second examination of the window gave no encouragement, for his strength was not sufficient to force aside the bars.
The boards of the floor, while not nailed with any remarkable care, defied all his attempts to remove them.
Then he looked at the ceiling, which was composed only of the rafters with beams, poles, and boards laid across the top, but, so far as he could judge, unfastened.
"I don't know as I should be any better off if I was up there; but it won't do much harm to make a try in that direction after dark. A fellow ought to be able to shin up the window bars."
The more he thought of this possibility for escape the more simple did it seem, and he resolved on putting the plan into execution.
That the dogs were outside ready to try conclusions with any stranger he understood very well; but it was useless to borrow trouble on this score until learning whether there was a chance for him to descend to their level.
"I don't s'pose it'll amount to anything more than gettin' into the loft, an' then coming down again; but it's better than laying still," he said, and from that time until sunset he remained at the window gazing out at the trees and the deep-mouthed guardians of the place.
When, as nearly as he could judge, two hours had passed from the time of his arrival, the tall man drove up in a springless wagon which was apparently filled with food and liquor.
The load was taken into the house, the horse stabled, and then the dogs were let loose.
That they would be very disagreeable customers with whom to have any dispute could be well understood as they ran to and fro growling and snarling, and despite his resolve not to borrow trouble until he knew there was a possibility it could come, Jet could not prevent himself from speculating upon what would happen if he suddenly appeared before them.
It was nearly sunset before the door of his room was opened, and then the short man entered, bringing several slices of raw bacon, half a loaf of bread, and a bottle of water.
"I don't count on havin' you starve to death," he said, as he placed the articles on the floor; "but you won't get enough to injure your health, I reckon."
"Why don't you let me go to New York? I haven't done anything to harm you."
"That is because you haven't had much of a chance as yet, except to talk with the inspector, my boy, and we don't intend to give you one. There isn't—"
"Here, Bob! What's the use of chinnin' with that cub when the grub is ready. Come down, or I won't answer that your share will be left."
This threat had the desired effect, for Bob went out of the room very quickly, taking good care, however, to lock and bolt the door behind him.
The night came; Jet could no longer distinguish objects from the window, and the room was so dark that it was impossible to see his way around.
Crouching close by the window Jet heard the heavy tramp as the men came upstairs, and by the noises he knew they had entered the apartment adjoining his prison.
The hum of conversation came through the rough partition quite distinctly, and in a short time this was followed by a heavy thumping sound at regular intervals.
It was as if the men were pounding with a wooden mallet, except that the blows were fully thirty seconds apart.
Jet tried to guess what they were doing; but the effort was in vain.
"What's the use bothering about them," he said, finally, to himself. "So long as they stay where they are, and don't trouble me, I haven't much right to complain, though a fellow would find it mighty hard work to sleep in such a racket."
It was time to make his explorations if he proposed doing so before morning, and he arose to his feet.
By the aid of the window bars it was not a difficult matter for one as agile as he to clamber to the rafters above, and once there the remainder of the task was comparatively simple.
Hanging by one arm to the beams, with his disengaged hand he pulled away the loose timbers and boards from above until a passage was made for his body.
Then raising himself by both hands he was soon standing where he could touch the roof of the building; but unable to see his surroundings because of the intense darkness.
"I don't see that I am much better off up here," he muttered, grimly, as he walked cautiously along without any very good idea of what he expected to find.
Just then a twinkling star was seen, and he discovered that one of the roof-boards was badly rotted.
Now, there was something tangible in the way of escape, and he eagerly began to tear away the decayed wood, laying the pieces gently on the flooring, until there was an aperture sufficiently large to admit of his passing through.
An instant later he was seated astride the ridge-pole, looking down into the yard where the ferocious dogs were running wildly to and fro as if having already scented their prey.
Now indeed was Jet at a loss to know what to do.
Even if the animals had not been below he would have hesitated to leap from the roof of the building lest he should strike upon the barricade of cord-wood with which the house was surrounded.
He must go down regardless of the many dangers, or return to the room where the men could murder him whenever they felt so disposed, and after a few second's reflection he chose the former course.
"There is one chance of getting away from the dogs, an' no show whatever that I'll ever leave here alive unless I go now," he said, to himself.
Clutching at the rough boards literally with his finger-nails, he slid slowly down toward the edge of the roof at a point farthest from the stable.
He could see the wall of wood directly beneath him, and hear the low growling of the dogs as they sniffed the air to discover the cause of the sounds which had aroused their suspicions.
To remain very long deliberating would be to run the risk of the animals giving an alarm, and Jet gathered himself for a spring.
Putting forth all his strength in order to clear the obstacle, he leaped.
The ends of the cord-wood just grazed his clothing as he passed over them, and Jet struck the soft ground, which gave forth no warning sound to those who were in the building, on that side of the clearing where the trees were nearest.
He was unhurt, although badly shaken up, and would have started at full speed to gain the partial shelter of the forest, but for the fact that just then a heavy body leaped over the barricade.
It was one of the dogs, and Jet knew he must now fight desperately if he would live.
A stick of wood about as thick as his wrist was the first weapon which came to his hand as he clutched at the top of the pile to draw himself up, and with this he awaited in silence the onset.
Jet understood only too well that even if he should come off victorious in this battle with the dog, and in so doing make sufficient noise to be heard by the inmates of the house, all his efforts would have been in vain.
Although the moon had not yet risen, the light of the stars permitted the boy to see his antagonist, who, on first striking the ground on the outside of the barricade, stood for an instant as if at a loss to locate the intruder.
Jet thought it possible he might yet escape, and started toward the shelter of the trees; but the sound of his footsteps soon told the brute where to look for his prey.
With a low, angry yelp he turned, standing motionless a few seconds, during which time Jet continued to back farther away from the house in order that there might be less chance the noise of the conflict would be overheard.
Then the dog crouched for a spring, and Jet, every muscle strained to its utmost tension, stood ready to receive him.
The battle was short.
While the dog was yet in the air Jet struck out with the heavy stick, and his aim was perfect.
The club fell squarely on the brute's head, crushing the skull as if it had been an egg-shell, and without so much as a moan the dog dropped dead.
There was yet another to be met, but so far he had not made his presence known save by angry barks, and Jet ran for the woods with all speed.
He gained the shelter of the trees and paused for an instant to look back.
If he must meet the companion of the animal he had killed it would be better to do so at the edge of the undergrowth where he could have a fair view of his antagonist, rather than fight in the darkness where the branches would obstruct his movements.
No sound came from the inmates of the house to show that they had been alarmed.
From the window of the room where Jet had heard them moving about a bright light could be seen, and what seemed very strange, considering the fact that the night was far from cold, the men had built such a roaring fire that the sparks were coming from the chimney in wreaths.
Even where he stood Jet could hear those dull, heavy blows at regular intervals, which, since it proved their work had not been interrupted, showed that the men had no idea their prisoner was making his escape.
The remaining dog was rushing to and fro barking furiously; but, contrary to Jet's expectations, he did not leap over the barrier.
"I don't reckon there's any use waiting longer for him. It will be better to take my chances of fighting among the trees than to stay until those fellows come out."
With this thought in his mind Jet started at a rapid pace through the woods, exerting himself to the utmost to keep ever before him the direction of the morning's journey.
The bread and bacon he had put in his pocket before attempting the escape, and now as he made his way through the underbrush he ate leisurely, for strength was the one thing needful for the successful completion of the task, and to retain this, food was essential.
More than once he fell over the trunk of a tree, or was thrown by the vines which caught his feet as in a snare; but each time he arose to his feet undismayed, and the weary tramp was continued without a halt until considerably past midnight, when he had arrived at the railroad track.
With plenty of money in his pocket there was no thought of walking any farther than necessary, and Jet's only desire was to find a depot.
By continuing on half an hour longer in a direction opposite the one taken by him when he met the three apparent tramps, the boy found that for which he sought.
The night train would be along in ten minutes, so the station-agent said, and Jet bought a ticket for Albany.
He had been tempted to change one of the ten-dollar bills for this purpose; but decided not to do so after realizing that it might be imprudent to display so much money.
Of the amount given him by the manager of the minstrel company he had enough left to pay for a passage and purchase something to eat in the morning, consequently there was no necessity of using that which he had found.
Of the journey to Albany he knew absolutely nothing.
The long tramp had given him an overpowering desire for sleep, and the soft seat was rest-inviting, therefore in less than five minutes from the time he boarded the train his eyes were closed in slumber.
On arriving at his destination one of the brakemen awakened him with a vigorous shaking, which would have done credit to a giant's strength, and he went out in the early morning air decidedly refreshed.
His plans had all been laid during the tramp through the woods, and he knew exactly what to do.
First breakfast was necessary, and this important duty he attended to without delay, spending therefor the last of his change.
It was six o'clock when he arrived at the Hudson River depot, and learned that a train for New York would leave in a short time.
"Give me a ticket," he said, producing one of the bills found in the house from which he escaped.
The ticket-seller took the money, looked at it scrutinizingly for an instant, and then at the boy.
"Where did you get this?" he asked.
"Out on the road a piece. Don't think I stole it, do you?"
"Tell me where you got it."
"I don't know. It wasn't any town, an' I ain't acquainted 'round this way."
"Who gave it to you?"
"Did you earn it?"
"Say, mister, what's the matter?" and now Jet began to be alarmed, for the ticket-agent looked very stern.
Instead of replying the man beckoned to an officer who was standing near by, and said, in a low tone:
"Take this boy on a charge of passing counterfeit money. I will be up to make a complaint as soon as I can get away."
"Come with me," and the officer laid his hand heavily on Jet's shoulder.
"What's the matter?" Jet asked, as he tried to release himself, but succeeded only in getting such a choking as nearly deprived him of breath.
"You'd better come along without any trouble, for I don't want to club a little shaver like you."
"But I'm going to New York, an' that man has got my money."
"I reckon you won't need it yet awhile."
"Tell me what business you've got to haul me off like this?"
"You'll find out soon enough."
By this time quite a crowd had began to gather, and realizing that it would be useless to make any further objections, Jet added:
"Let up on my collar a little so's I can breathe, an' I'll go along peaceable."
The officer did as he had been requested, but not to such an extent that there was any danger his prisoner would have an opportunity to escape, and the two walked rapidly along the street followed by a throng of boys.
At the police station Jet was led in front of a high desk, and the officer said in reply to a question from the sergeant:
"Charged by the ticket-seller at the depot with passing counterfeit money."
The small prisoner was asked his name, age, and place of residence, to all of which he made truthful answers, and then he was searched thoroughly.
As a matter of course this could only result in the finding of the second bill, and the sergeant said, severely:
"I reckon this isn't his first offense of the same kind. Who sent you out to pass that money, my boy?"
He had believed it would be possible for him to give such information to the inspector as would result in the arrest of the murderers, and was not willing to tell these officers the whole story.
"I didn't know the money was bad," he said, after a brief time of reflection. "Is that the only reason why you are going to keep me here?"
"Before the business is ended you'll find that to be serious enough."
"But is it all?"
"Then will you send word to the inspector in New York that District Messenger No. 48 is here, and wants to see him right away?"
"So? You're the boy who is wanted so badly in New York, eh?"
"I don't know anything about that; but I must see the inspector mighty soon or it'll be too late."
"Too late for what?"
"That's jest what I can't tell you."
"It may be possible I shall make you."
"You can try; but it won't be any use, for I won't say a word to anybody but him."
"He has nothing to do with this case of passing counterfeit money."
"I know it; but there's somethin' else of a good deal more importance that he's got a finger in. It don't make any difference to me, about the money, for I've done nothin' wrong, however you try to fix it."
Jet spoke in such a tone of independence that the sergeant would have made him feel the weight of his authority but for the fact that word had been sent out from the New York Police Headquarters in such a peculiar manner as to leave no doubt of the boy's being an important prisoner or witness, and he could not well decline to grant the request.
"You may think to get out of the scrape by playing this game, but I promise you'll be in a worse box than ever if the inspector don't like your message."
"I'll run the risk," Jet replied, calmly, feeling that his arrest would be a matter of but little moment if through it he should be able to communicate with the inspector before the men in the woods would have time to get away.
"It would be much better if you confided in me, for just at present you are in a disagreeable position, and I could do considerable toward helping you."
"We'll let things go as they are, providin' you let the inspector know I've got to see him right away," Jet replied, and the sergeant could not well continue the conversation.
The small prisoner was confined in one of the cells; but due care was taken in regard to his comfort, for by this time all in the station had begun to look upon him as a very important person.
Jet was not disturbed because of the fact that he had been arrested on a charge of passing counterfeit money; already he had a shrewd suspicion as to the value of his discoveries, and felt quite certain he would receive a warm and friendly reception from the inspector.
The only thing which troubled Jet as he sat alone in the narrow cell was the possibility that the inspector might not get his message in time to bag the suspected men before they left the house in the woods, for now that he had made his escape, it was reasonable to suppose they would be alarmed.
On this score, however, he need have had little fear. Before sunset a gentleman was ushered into his cell and the door locked behind him.
"You wanted to see the inspector," the stranger began, as he seated himself on the narrow bench which served as a bed.
"Well, s'posin' I did?" Jet asked, thinking this man was some one attached to the station.
"He has sent me to know where you have been."
"Did you come from New York?"
"Yes, on the last train."
"Why didn't the inspector come?"
"He never leaves the city; there are plenty of officers at headquarters to do such work. Now, what do you know?"
"More'n I'll tell to anybody but him."
"In that case I shall have to take you back to the city."
"But then it will be too late; them fellers are bound to skip when they find out I've got away."
Jet looked up suspiciously.
"I don't want to say a word to anybody but the inspector."
"I told you he sent me to do the business. You can talk as freely as to him."
"Who are you?"
"From New York?"
"See here, my boy, I don't blame you for having doubts, and to set them at rest I'll prove that what I say is true," and the detective pounded on the bars of the cell door until the turnkey appeared.
"I wish you would ask the sergeant to step this way a moment."
That officer obeyed the summons at once, and when he stood at the door the detective said to him:
"Will you kindly tell this boy who I am? He is afraid I am sailing under false colors."
"You are Detective Harvey, sent by the inspector at New York in answer to a telegram I wired this morning. To give him perfect confidence in you I will say further that at present he is confined for passing counterfeit money, but if you should ask to have him released I guarantee that the charge will be withdrawn. Are you satisfied now, my boy?"
"Yes, I reckon it's all right. I'll take the chances; but if you fellers are playin' any game, the inspector is bound to raise a terrible row when I see him."
"That part of it is all right. Tell Harvey what you know, and I answer for it that it will be the same as if the inspector himself was here."
With this remark the sergeant walked away, and Jet said in a low tone:
"Now I'll tell the whole story; but first I want to know why that advertisement about me was put in the papers?"
"We thought those two men might have gotten hold of you, more especially since the manager at the district messenger station reported that you spoke of being hired to go to Yonkers."
Jet now gave, with careful attention to detail, the story of his misadventures from the time of leaving the Union Square Hotel, and Detective Harvey received the information with no slight degree of excitement.
"I suppose the bills you found in the pile of dirt are in the sergeant's hands," he said, half to himself, when Jet concluded.
"I reckon so; anyway, they took both away from me."
"We will go up stairs and look at them. If I'm not mistaken, my boy, we shall run to earth the gang who are flooding the country with the most dangerous counterfeit known, at the same time that we bag the murderers. Do you think you could lead me to the house in the woods?"
"I'm certain of it; but we shall have to walk a long distance."
"I wouldn't grumble if it was fifty miles, providing we finally succeeded. Come with me."
Again he summoned the turnkey, ordered him to open the door, and said to Jet:
"Ain't they goin' to keep me here any longer?"
"I should say not. You heard what the sergeant said, and we must be out of this town within an hour."
Jet followed his conductor up stairs, and in a few moments the two were in earnest consultation with the Albany Chief of Police.
The counterfeits were found to be the same which had given the authorities so much trouble. They were so well executed as to pass without suspicion in the majority of cases, and the fact that the two discovered by Jet were imperfect impressions, which had been thrown aside by the makers, was, probably, the only cause of their having been refused by the ticket-seller.
"It is lucky you were arrested," Harvey said in a tone of satisfaction.
"Why?" Jet asked in surprise. "It wasn't any fun to stay in that little cell all day."
"I can fancy not; but if you had come to New York a great deal of time would have been wasted, and as it is we can start in search of those fellows at once."
"But you an' I can't handle the crowd if they show fight."
"We don't intend to try. When we leave this town our party will be large enough."
"How many men do you want?" the chief asked the detective.
"Two, providing they are ready at once."
"I suppose you will go a certain portion of the way on the train?"
"On that road the next one leaves in about an hour. I will have the best men I know of waiting at the depot. Is there anything else to be done?"